by Nancy Mills

“How you pick a location is critical because it controls how you tell your story.”
—Production Designer John Goldsmith

When Jonathan Jansen/LMGI and his location team started prep on Perry Mason, the eight-part HBO series that recently won Outstanding Locations in a Period Television Series at the 7th Annual LMGI Awards, one of the first things they heard was this: Producing director Tim Van Patten doesn’t like to shoot on a backlot or a stage.

“Tim wanted everything on location,” SLM Jonathan Jansen says. Jansen was thrilled. “It keeps you busy and guarantees your job,” he says, “but it is also daunting. How were we going to find 1930s Los Angeles?

Angels Flight & shooting with green screen/VFX. Photo courtesy of HBO.

“Tim wanted it to be a little dark, gritty and dirty, with a noir-ish feel to it. We referenced Chinatown (1974) quite a bit. The feel of it and as unsettling as that was, we were trying to evoke that same kind of emotion in Perry’s journey—where he was coming from and where his demons were. By the end, he has transformed and has become a more polished attorney.

“We wanted to stay away from the original ’50s series. The old Perry Mason was a bit more refined and polished. We were trying to create a new story, darker, edgier than what anyone would expect. We were going off the Erle Stanley Gardner books rather than the earlier show. (Gardner, who introduced Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1933, died in 1970.) There had never been an origin story before. They wanted to present what Gardner represented.”

Jansen started with a small team of scouts, all of whom had worked with him on The OA and Barry: LM Alexander Georges/LMGI, KALM/scout Brian Kinney/LMGI and KALM/scout Alex Moreno/LMGI. Perry Mason co-executive producer Aida Rodgers, who had worked closely with Jansen on The OA and Barry, was quick to invite him onboard for Perry Mason.

“Jonathan was born in Los Angeles and grew up there and knows the city inside and out,” she says. “We’ve worked on many of the same projects. He loves architecture and buildings and loves a challenge. We have a great production designer in John Goldsmith. John and Jonathan work really well together, and they have a great time solving the riddle that is each show.

“Jonathan is not afraid of knocking on doors and connecting with homeowners. He loves finding unique and different things, as opposed to going through location services. He tends to go the extra mile, and he often finds a real gem. He cares deeply about the creative. What makes him unique is that he wants to find something new. He doesn’t get frustrated when a director says, ‘Oh, that’s good, but give it another push.’

“I’m pretty big on vetting whom I hire. I like having people I enjoy spending time with, and we all spend a lot of time together on a show. On Perry Mason, we had a phenomenal director, Tim Van Patten, who provides an inclusive environment. In Tim’s world, no idea is bad. Maybe it’s off the wall but fun. The sky is the limit when you’re trying to recreate 1930s L.A. in 2019.”

Rodgers admires Jansen’s management style. “He manages his team really well,” she says. “He has a good eye for people. We have amazing scouts. Everyone is part of the family and he takes care of them. I’ve worked with him since 2005. He was a location assistant on Numbers, the first show I was supervisor on in L.A.”

Sister Alice McKeegan (Tatiana Maslany) at the Radiant Assembly of God Church

Rodgers brought Goldsmith into the mix because 1) she had just worked with him on The OA and 2) he comes from an architecture background.

“I’d worked with this team before,” Goldsmith says, “and Jonathan is a friend. We trust each other. Location is one of the most powerful tools in moviemaking. How you pick a location is critical because it controls how you tell your story. I sat down with Jonathan and went back-and-forth. He’s smart and fun. It was a great collaboration. Sometimes we’d drive around scouting together or we’d bat ideas around.”

Was he influenced by Chinatown? “Yes,” he says, “but it was not something we were trying to repeat. We watched it with Tim. It’s so compelling as a marker in time and place. We wanted to do that as well. Our work was primarily removing what’s built up since 1932. DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles) was thick with fantastic buildings—if you can get above street level.

“There was a confluence of events in Los Angeles in 1932—the Olympics, Prohibition and The Depression. All those things were going on at the same time, and the racial scene was shifting. African Americans, many from the South, were moving to L.A., where homeownership was possible. The team found places with the director after parking the van and walking a grid.”

Jansen and LM Georges also had a strong relationship. “Jonathan and I always push each other,” he says. “‘Let’s keep going,’ we’d tell each other. We’d keep looking for more options. Sometimes we’d rotate the scouts off locations they were searching for, just to shake things up.”

Explaining how he and his team operate, Jansen says, “I generally run the look of the show for our department and drive that narrative. I work with the director, DP, producers, art department heads and writers. Usually, I do the budget, handle the permits and coordinate the scouts. This time, we moved up Alexander Georges to manage. He wanted to do permits and handle logistics of the coordinating team. Brian Kinney and Alex Moreno are some of our best scouts. I tell all my assistants, ‘Always have your camera on you. You never know what I might need you to find.’”

Jansen spent a lot of time with VFX coordinator Justin Ball, with whom he had worked on The OA. “Justin is a really nice guy and pleasant to be around,” he says. “We’d be out scouting for locations, and he’d have his iPad taking notes. We’d look at the scope, and Justin would ask, ‘How much can you do here?’ I would say, ‘I can remove those meters, mailboxes, light poles, signage, etc.’  

“Or I would say, ‘If you can do this, I can do that.’ If there are high-rises in the background, we’ll need VFX. We’d come up with a checklist. If we were unable to get something physically removed, I’d send Justin a note saying, ‘Keep an eye out for this, you’ll have to remove it in post.’”

Although Jansen and his crew searched throughout the southern half of California for specific locations, they spent considerable time in DTLA. “Most of Downtown L.A. is still intact,” he says. “But everything depended on the shot and the frame. We had a shot set at 4th and Main involving the preacher and Perry walking up the street. Most of that was practical. It exists today, and we didn’t need VFX to do the whole thing.”

Then there was a whole city block the film crew took over. “Spring Street and beyond had to be repainted,” Jansen says. “They put oil derricks and painted in backgrounds and occasionally in foregrounds too. If we didn’t remove something modern, they’d paint it out in post.”

Adds Moreno about the life of a location scout: “I enjoy meeting people and finding new locations. People tell their stories. I might get a call from Jonathan at 4 p.m., wanting to know what I was doing. I’d say, ‘I’ve got seven places.’ He’d say, ‘There is still light. Keep going.’”


“I fell into location work,” Jansen, a Los Angeles native, says. “I took an unusual route. Stacey Brashear/LMGI, a friend I grew up with, worked in locations. She’d call me up and tell me she was scouting up in the mountains, down at the beach or maybe Beverly Hills. Everything she did sounded so interesting and fantastic. She started telling me, ‘You should do this.’ Finally, I decided to take the jump.

“I started out as a security guard. Looking for locations was a union job. I needed to get experience. Because security falls within the Location Department, Stacey thought it would be the best way to learn. She taught me about scouting and everything that falls within Location Departments. Once I had some experience and met enough managers, I got my days and made it into the union. My first film, Single White Female 2: The Psycho (2005), was nonunion and went straight to video. From there, I landed my first union show, Numbers, with Claudia Eastman. I also met Aida Rodgers there when she was the production supervisor. My first major film was The Number 23 with Jim Carrey (2007).”

Georges got his start 18 years ago working on a set with location manager Greg Lazzaro. “I was a site rep for one of his locations on Underclassmen. Being a site rep allowed me to see all the production departments. I saw what Greg did as a location manager and thought it was something I could like doing. I like logistics, architecture and design and how setting can tell a story. We stayed in touch and I reached out to him just when he needed an assistant on the pilot 13 Graves. The roster was low, so I was able to get into the union. I began to build up my experience and abilities from there.

Moreno says, “I was born and raised in Burbank, where everyone wants to work for the entertainment industry. When I was just in grade school, I’d carry my briefcase to school. I wanted to know how to get into the film business. I had the ‘itch.’ I had a business card when I was 10.

“First, I thought I’d be a graphic designer. All my clients were producers, so I thought I could learn the business that way. I wanted to create films. Then 15 years ago, a friend said, ‘Hey Alex. Do you want to work with me? You’ll be the location manager, and I’ll teach you everything. One of my projects will flip, and you’ll be able to join the union.’ So I worked for indie producers for 5-7 years, and finally, one project turned union.’

“I started many moons ago in the industry under producer Suzanne Stanford as a PA,” Kinney said, “just to be able to pay the rent and live in Venice/Los Angeles. Now I’m in the union with the Hollywood Teamsters Local  399 and currently working for executive producer Aida Rodgers and her team as a location scout, where I get to scout L.A. and California with Jonathan, Alexander, Alex and everyone else. It’s a sweet dream!”


Angels Flight: The historic narrow gauge funicular railway in DTLA. The site of the key scene where the gruesome discovery of a kidnapped baby sets the plot in motion.

“There’s such an amount of good stuff in DTLA,” production designer John Goldsmith says. “When I first read the script and saw Angels Flight as a location, I thought, ‘How do you solve this puzzle?’ Angels Flight proved to be one of the most difficult locations to recreate, as most of what once surrounded it no longer exists. 

 “We used the train car, track and bottom structure and basically created a world around it,” Jansen says. “The folks who run the train were great to work with and really supportive of the project. The city owns the park to the left of it, and there’s a parking structure to the right of it. We wanted to recreate an environment around it as it existed in the1930s.

“The city moved the train in the 1960s. We used some historical photos to recreate the street-level drugstore on the left side. We also wrapped the parking structure in green screen fabric and had other green screen panels on giant forklifts—elevated and floated in the same movement of the train that our visual effects team would use later in post to digitally create the structures that existed on the left. We removed the traffic signals, meters, light poles, fences and whatever else was in the way. It took a lot of massaging to coordinate.  

“Tim (director Tim Van Patten) wanted a dolly shot following our Black Hat character carrying the baby to the train with people walking by and cars driving up and down the street. We had a difficult time trying to make the top of Angels Flight work because it is now surrounded by a modern plaza, so we ended up getting a parking lot nearby where we could recreate the look of the upper level street, ticket booth and entrance of the train. We then closed streets around the parking lot to bring the period cars and background actors to complete the look.”

“Cranes, lights and pulleys were everywhere,” location scout Moreno says. “We’d film three or four days at a time. It was a massive undertaking. The producers said, ‘We’ve got to do it right, so go for it.’ Everybody bent over backward.” 

Location scout Brian Kinney scouted many of the bigger locations, including Angels Flight. “Since Angels Flight (1901) was an actual place in the script, I scouted the current location of the vintage funicular cars and ticket booth,” he says. “That was the easy part! Jonathan and Alexander had to deal with heavy lifting for jurisdictional issues and property rights around the area. A truss and green screen were built around the funicular car so that VFX could superimpose a 1930s exterior backdrop.”

The effort it took to bring this iconic landmark and its surroundings back to life indicates how important the recreation of the time and place were to telling this story, and how the Location Department faced the task.

Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Alex Georges/LMGI

Downtown Los Angeles 1932: In many ways, hunting for Perry Mason locations in DTLA was the same as for any project.  “You read the script, make your notes and then have a creative meeting to talk about what we’re looking for,” Moreno says. “Then it was ‘Go get ’em.’ There were no limits. We went deep and we went far to get the best thing. It wasn’t, ‘You’ve got to be close by the studio.’

“On Perry Mason, we started a couple months earlier than usual because of the complexity of requests and clearing certain buildings. Who owns it? Could they be friendly?  What approvals do we need to get? I had fun filming the exterior steps of the West Plaza at Los Angeles City Hall. The parking was a dirt space by the building. If you’re filming there, it’s a great help.  

“With City Hall [We filmed the exterior steps of the South Plaza, the rotunda, hallways and bathrooms], though, you’ve got to write everything down with quadruple copies. It’s not just a matter of speaking with the site representative, who’s a very experienced person with filming.  He told us, ‘Let me run it through the process.’ He knew he was taking care of us. Everyone was coordinated, but there were all these emails and questions. We’d be on pins and needles wondering, ‘Can we remove the soap dispenser?’ In one bathroom, all the fixtures had to be replaced. I loved it. It was fun.”

“There are bits and pieces of old L.A. in DTLA,” LM Alexander Georges says. “Mostly, they’re east of Broadway. We had a lot of the modern stuff removed, including more than 100 parking meters, not to mention streetlights and traffic lights. Other things we left for the VFX crew to remove. Then we put everything back to the way it was, although we left some billboards up for a while. We worked with two teams of VFX people. We’d all go to every location and talk about what they would add and what we would brush away.”

Finding Los Angeles 1930s was one of the biggest challenges of bringing Perry Mason to life. “The city is not that big, and a lot of it has been modernized,” Jansen says. “I was scouting, and I had my scouts out there. We did as much research as we could. We tried to lock in to streets and buildings and go after them.  

“Tim Van Patten/director, John Goldsmith/production designer, David Franco/DP, Justin Ball/VFX, Aida Rodgers/Co-EP and myself would walk the streets in Downtown Los Angeles and San Pedro and look for camera angles, backdrops where we could create a world around our characters. If you look at the buildings from the second floor up, the city looks amazing. It’s down at ground level you see security gates, parking lots, aluminum windows, modern glass storefronts and other modern elements. We had to peel all that away.”

Jansen credits DTLA with helping make the show successful. “City agencies worked with us on removing streetlights, traffic signals, meters and traffic signage” he says. “We also had a team of vendors who removed security cameras, gates, business signage and light fixtures off buildings. They stripped out as much of modern Los Angeles as they could.

“We had a small army of people—artisans and vendors—we were constantly coordinating. For the most part, the places we were going into and doing all this stuff to were open to us and receptive. Eventually, the art department would come in and put period-correct elements back.”

Jansen worked closely with FilmLA. “They were very supportive of the project,” he says. “They have some stars over there that really helped—Amy Kradolfer, Yulizza Ramierez, Arturo Pena, Katy Mongan and Sara Nuebauer.”  

LM Alexander Georges adds, “Permitting was sometimes difficult, but FilmLA was very helpful. So was Joan Aguado in South Pasadena. Perry Mason was a large, ambitious production, and we needed to spend a lot of time with these agencies. Sometimes you get filming fatigue trying to turn a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes.’ You want quality vendors who are prepared to make things happen. You throw something against the wall to see what sticks. There was a lot of extra outreach on the show to make sure we had enough advocates to do what we came to do.”

Downtown Parade: In the original draft of episode 107, Strickland (Shea Whigham) falls asleep in his car outside of Elder Seidel’s house, allowing Seidel (Aaron Stanford) to get away,” Jansen says. “Tim wanted something more compelling and dynamic so he came up with the cat-and-mouse chase downtown with Strickland chasing Seidel through the city streets and ultimately losing him in the parade. In a few lines on a page, we went from two actors at one location in a quiet neighborhood to clearing multiple city blocks in DTLA with hundreds of background actors, picture cars and hundreds of crew members.

“The parade through DTLA was a lot of work but very fun to put together. We had so many city streets we’d worked on to get these scenes. You add in the background actors in their wardrobe, period hair, makeup, the period cars, the band and horses and it was such a large scale for a TV show.”

Georges also liked the parade down 5th Street, although he describes it as “our most logistically challenging location.” “We did it in the middle of the Christmas holidays, when all local businesses were trying to make money. Our time to shoot was limited. The scene wasn’t in the original script, but showed up in the rewrite. We were, ‘Okay, here we go. Let’s find it and make it happen.’”  

World War I Battlefield: Site where Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) flashes back to in his nightmares. “The World War I battlefield was pretty amazing and spectacular,” Jansen says. “That was our first two days of filming. Tim wanted to kickstart the production by filming this large-scale battle first. We spent three months prepping that location at Mystery Mesa. That and Perry’s farmhouse were the two biggest locations to prep. We worked hard trying to find the right background even though we knew we would spend a lot of time in the trenches.”

Mason’s Farmhouse: Perry Mason’s family home. “Another location that proved challenging to find was Mason’s farmhouse, which in the script was being taking over by an airfield,” Jansen says. “We were trying to recreate the what-would-have-been Van Nuys Airport in the 1930s. We wanted to build an airstrip where we could land planes outside of Mason’s house. We were trying to find the right farmhouse, but we also needed a property that had the space to support an airstrip that was suitable to land the prop planes safely. We looked everywhere, as far north as San Luis Obispo and as far south as San Diego and San Bernardino to the east.

“We eventually landed in Thousand Oaks with some help from the Ventura County Film Office. The property we picked was in the agricultural zone of Ventura County, which meant we had to pull a conditional use permit that would require public hearings and could take a year or longer to get, which we didn’t have time for. We had to scale back the design and impact of the airstrip to keep our use within the perimeters of what is normally allowed in a filming permit. Our original intent was to have planes land and take off practically, but we cut back because of the additional permitting requirements. In the end, we were able to find a compromise with the county that allowed us to still achieve what we needed.”

Kinney recalls, “When we had a hard time finding Mason’s farm from the start, Alexander sent me to a specific place that came to mind in Thousand Oaks to scout. Until then, we had both scouted for weeks without a real true contender that could work. This place became Mason’s farm, which also had many hurdles from the county/city to film the nascent airstrip next to Mason’s farm, where Lupe (Veronica Falcón) is supposed to have planes actively flying in and out of the airstrip.”

Radiant Assembly of God Church: Where evangelist Sister Alice McKeegan (Tatiana Maslany), channeling Aimee Semple McPherson, preaches to hordes of followers. Kinney says, “The church had three components, the exterior and the interior lobby and the main hall. The exterior and lobby I found in West Adams near USC (The Art of Living Center, formerly the Second Church of Christ, Scientist). It had those big pillars and a nice look. The interior hall was another piece we’d been chasing for some time. Dennis Morley/LMGI tracked down the Trinity Auditorium Building in DTLA that hadn’t been filmed in for more than 15 years and was being developed into a boutique hotel. The main hall still had many architectural elements from the period.”  

“It was still a pretty big build, and we shot all the scenes for the whole show together in a block,” co-executive producer Aida Rodgers adds. “We had over 450 extras each day, and they were like a drop in the bucket for the size of the space. There was a choir plus all the people working in the church. How would we fill the church with enough people? How could we even try to dress thousands of extras to fill every space? Ultimately, VFX supervisor Justin Ball took pictures of the extras and populated the empty seats through visual effects.”

Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) and Lupe Gibbs (Veronica Falcón) at Rancho Camulos. Photo courtesy of HBO

Iconic Spanish Home Known as McKeegan Mansion: Where Sister Alice lives with her mother. “The McKeegan Mansion was a tough one to nail down,” Jansen says. “When John Goldsmith and I discussed homes for the characters, we wanted to pick styles that represented them and helped identify the personalities of the characters in the show, at the same time trying to show the wide array of architecture the city has to offer. We started looking at the classic Victorian homes throughout the city and then moved to Neoclassical homes in Windsor Square and Hancock Park. We then decided to explore the elements of old Hollywood with the classic Spanish mansion. We found the perfect one in Pasadena.

“When finally I got hold of the owner on the phone, he said, ‘Yeah, I got your messages. Let’s talk.’ It was pretty amazing that it came through. It was a lot of work to get that guy to say, ‘Yeah! OK.’ Every location has its sensitivities and special requirements. In all, there is not ever one way to approach a location and receive an ‘OKAY TO FILM.’”

“When you’re identifying a character, you want to be sure that person has a visual language,” Georges adds. “We wanted to be period-correct but also show how they lived. Their homes reflect their interior lives. We scouted over 50 mansions. Every time we showed them something, it wasn’t exactly right. The flavor and flow of the house was wrong. Or there was worry about whether we would be able to accommodate cars in front of it.”

Lucky Lagoon Casino: Where George Gannon (Aaron Stanford) spent time as a mob accountant. “My favorite location was Mason and Lupe (Veronica Falcón) flying in an airplane on their way to the Lucky Lagoon Casino,” Kinney says. “Alexander and I had felt that the historic Rancho Camulos (1800s) would work as the Lucky Lagoon, so I scouted it and Alex Moreno handled the on-set management.  

“It really gave the audience a chance to have fun. It had an almost Indiana Jones quality to it. However, to find the right look for the airplane in flight, Jonathan and I scouted by helicopter over the desert-like areas in Los Angeles and Kern Counties. It was my first helicopter job, where I had a GoPro on my head, a gimbal for my camera, plus my iPhone. To sit strapped in the back with the large headphones on and open the helicopter side door to get some clear footage was pretty exhilarating!”

San Pedro: A stand-in for DTLA street life. Not all the Perry Mason street scenes were shot in DTLA. Key scenes took place in San Pedro, about 25 miles south. “We decorated two city blocks for our introduction of Perry and officer Drake (a police officer),” Jansen says. “Also, Perry and Drake met outside near a new restaurant that was just opening. Then we find them again at the homeless encampment that we built out in an empty dirt lot. 

“We had everyone onboard but had a little resistance from the new restaurant owner, who complained, ‘I’m just opening and trying to get my sea legs.’ He was concerned about his patrons and impact to his fledgling business, which I can completely understand. Alexander Georges was able to get in there to address his concerns, and we were able to compensate him for any loss of business. You don’t even think about it. You just do it. You push through challenges you’re confronted with and try to make people as happy as possible.”

Madam Jin’s: “I had scouted a 1920s building in the Koreatown/Westlake area, which has pockets of history mixed amongst dense modernization,” Kinney says. “This location gave us the ground-floor brothel (which the art department built inside an empty storefront). This is also where George Gannon drags himself to the roof with detective Ennis (Andrew Howard) on his tail, with the fireworks going off. Alex Moreno, who managed the roof work, had a blast seeing all those screaming colorful fireworks in person after all the prep working the neighborhood!” 

Hyperion Bridge: “Another of my favorite locations was Hyperion Bridge in Silverlake, between L.A. and Atwater Village,” Georges adds. “It was completed in 1928 and 1929. It was an all-night shoot, with stunt drivers and we had 30 period cars. It was one of my favorites because of what we filmed there and how we filmed it as opposed to what it is. I like the bridge but because we filmed it at night and because we were able to watch the action from a great vantage point at night, one could imagine we were transported back to 1932 Los Angeles. You were there without having to look only in one direction or squint your eyes.”

Why Location Pros Love Perry Mason:
Its LMGI Nominee Ballot Essay for Best Period Television   

by Lori Balton & Diane Friedman

Filming WWI at Mystery Mesa. Before photo by Jonathan Jansen/LMGI

Filming WWI at Mystery Mesa. After photo by Alex Georges/LMGI

Filming WWI at Mystery Mesa. Cast and crew in the trenches. Photo courtesy of HBO.

A reimagined prequel to the famous ’50s serial Perry Mason is a sweeping series set in 1932 Los Angeles. Hard-boiled detective Mason struggles to solve a sensational baby kidnapping that ends badly in this noir crime drama steeped in hyper-realism. The intricacies of period detail coupled with a sense of scope and scale, given how little remains from that period in the contemporary City of Angels, is impressive. Corners, fragments, a remnant of patina—somehow entire locations materialize that describe a city of both extreme wealth and poverty, rampant corruption and frenzied spiritual revival. “We were not going for the highly stylized, clichéd version of the ’30s,” explains an executive producer. “We wanted to dirty it up.”  

The period recreation of the Angels Flight funicular railway for a grisly murder scene sets the story in Downtown Los Angeles and the dark tone for what follows. The reimagined stately Women’s Wilshire Ebell Club as a posh, masculine men’s clubhouse was impressive. Another atypical use of a well-known location was turning a Ventura ranch into a period landing strip.  Bonus points for its 19th-century farmhouse and barn that played for Mason’s inherited family home and two-cow dairy farm. Familiar locations were turned on their heads in a most creative way, all hauntingly evocative of the period. 

Deception swirls around LA’s iconic City Hall as the DA twists the facts serving his own political ambition. The steps of a stately columned church in West Adams and the interior of the Embassy Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles are reminiscent of the home of historical LA evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson who Sister Alice channels, setting her flock afire preaching that Mason’s case has become her cause. 6th Street in the harbor town of San Pedro is lined with period facades, including the 1931 deco Warner Grand Movie Palace, and stands in for the streets Mason walks, the dives he eats in, and the phone booth where he conducts business. Empty lots allow for the construction of huge billboards that obscure the shanty towns behind them. The period courtroom was found in the Beaux Arts-style Old City Hall on Beacon and 7th Street. 

Digital effects were used as needed, but Perry Mason remains a show rooted in physical spaces. From period neighborhoods with appropriately spaced homes to a Downtown Los Angeles parade, the location team turned back the clock, coordinating the removal of modern streetlights and inappropriate signage. In Perry’s unnerving flashback scenes of a WWI-trenched battlefield, staged on a Santa Clarita plateau, the authenticity is palpable. The location team was meticulous and unceasing in its hunt for elements that could blend into the sensational noir world of Perry Mason and bring us back into the sordid Los Angeles of the past to mingle with the sinners and the saved.

The Artful Collaboration of Locations and VFX

“I’m a big fan of period pieces,” VFX supervisor Justin Ball says. “I enjoy trying to put myself there. On Perry Mason, I did a lot of the research myself. SLM Jonathan Jansen/LMGI, production designer John Goldsmith and I worked together before on The OA: Part II. We’d look at various locations and figure things out on the fly.

“Luckily, HBO had us involved very early. That way, we could solve potential problems and help the director and others focus on the story. Certain issues might be a big problem while others wouldn’t. We could inform their decision-making process by saying, ‘No, we can solve that problem.’

“Because Perry Mason was a period show, anytime they were shooting outside, there was some work for us. And when we’re shooting inside a historical building, we might have had to clean up smoke detectors and other modern signage or devices.”

The largest build that Ball was involved with was the World War I scenes. “I worked with every department on it,” he says. “The scenes were filmed on top of Mystery Mesa outside Santa Clarita. We had to build the trenches. The practical effects guys did the explosions, bullet hits and flares. Then we went in and embellished it all and added bigger explosions and changed the landscape to look like the south of France. We filmed things that made it safe for the actors.”

One of Ball’s biggest challenges was populating the interior of Radiant Assembly of God Church, where an evangelist regularly drew huge crowds. “We weren’t able to find a church as big as the one we were going for,” he says. “We knew we could never have enough extras, so we added more (via VFX) to fill the church up. That was challenging. For TV shows, we tend to not do something so nuanced. This time, we scanned the extras so we would have everyone in costume. That’s how we filled the church.” 

Ball and his team did a lot of work in DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles). “It’s one of my favorite places,” he says, “although there is a very limited amount of period buildings. We’d come in after the fact and make things more correct, including adding trolley wires and lights.  We did a lot of work on a rooftop in Koreatown. We changed the placement of the building within Los Angeles and erased the skyline so it would feel more accurate.”

One popular 1930s piece of equipment surprised Ball. “After referencing old Signal Hill photos, we inserted a lot of oil derricks,” he says. “I dug up old maps that looked at areas between downtown and Santa Monica. It was amazing what we found. At the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega, there was an oil derrick in the middle of the street, which was actually a dirt road. Cars would drive around the derrick.”

The Angels Flight location required a lot of work. “It was hard to do,” Ball says. “We erected massive green screens at times at the bottom of the Flight. They had to be very designed and spaced out. We had a lot of green screen at the base and beyond because the top of Angels Flight was not able to be filmed. We couldn’t get access to California Plaza. We filmed the opening shots of the show with the top ticket booth in a parking lot across the street from the base of the Flight.”

Ball employs five people on his production team. “We have a producer, an editor, a coordinator and a supervisor, who helps manage the set, and I’m there for the bigger moments,” he says. “They do everything from preparing road signage to creating or erasing billboards.”  

Without their on-location effects work, 1932 Los Angeles would have been impossible to bring to life. By the time they completed 10 months of work on the eight episodes of Perry Mason, they had added 1,560 FX shots to the mix.  

Ball says, “The service we provide allows filmmakers to tell the story they want to tell.”

L to R: Brian Kinney/LMGI, Jonathan Jansen/LMGI, Alexander Georges/LMGI, Chelsea Lawrence/LMGI, Morgan Patterson, Alex Moreno/LMGI. Photo courtesy of HBO

The Perry Mason Location Team:

JONATHAN JANSEN/LMGI  Supervising Location Manager
ALEX GEORGES/LMGI  Location Manager
BRIAN KINNEY/LMGI  Key Assistant Location Manager/Scout
ALEX MORENO/LMGI  Key Assistant Location Manager/Scout
MICHAEL MASUMOTO  Key Assistant Location Manager/Scout
CHELSEA LAWRENCE/LMGI  Key Assistant Location Manager
JENNIFER KENNEDY  Key Assistant Location Manager
PAQUITA “PQ” HUGHES/LMGI  Key Assistant Location Manager
NICK BELL  Key Assistant Location Manger
MORGAN PATTERSON  Key Assistant Location Manager
ALFONSO RUIZ  Key Assistant Location Manger
WILLIS TURNER  Assistant Location Manager
AMIR FIROZKAR  Assistant Location Manager